Four of the original 1978 Star Wars figures sold by Lacy Scott & Knight. Luke Skywalker, pictured top left, proved the most desirable figure selling at £1150. The other figures are Princess Leia (£300), Darth Vader (£320) and Hans Solo (£270).

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

While working as a newsagent 25 years ago, the lady had bought one complete set for her grandson to play with but kept a second set in their original packaging in case any of the figures became lost.

Well, Bury St Edmunds saleroom Lacy Scott & Knight (15% buyer's premium) could relate a similar tale following their May 15 sale that included 26 lots from a lady who, having bought a set of figures for her son in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had liked them so much she bought some for herself.

Tens of thousands of Star Wars figures were sold in the 1970s and '80s during the height of the film's popularity. The original wave of Star Wars figures, which didn't hit the shelves until almost a year after the film opened, consisted of a dozen key characters from the first movie. Collectors refer to them as '12-back' figures, coining the phrase from the original bubble packs that showed all 12 figures from the series on the card back.

They sold in the thousands but were packaged in a way that encouraged the 'box' to be immediately discarded and, anyway, few children thought to 'collect' them until a cult emerged later in the trilogy (the standard issues relating to The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi are much easier to find and a fraction of the price).

The Suffolk collection included all of the original 12-back figures, all unopened in their original packaging: 11 by British manufacturer Palitoy and one (Chewbacca) by their American parent company Kenner.

Putting aside some rare prototypes, the most desirable of the series is the callow youth turned Jedi knight Luke Skywalker. Naturally this figure, notable for his shock of yellow hair, was among the best sellers, but most surviving examples are heavily playworn. The estimate here of £400-600 was an indication of what they have made in recent years but such a good example took £1050.

For the other figures bids of £200-300 were generally successful, an indication that, at least relative to a decade ago, the market has softened as cupboards have been cleared and the supply slowly increased.

The figure of Princess Leia, the action figure that shattered the myth that no boy would ever play with a female figure, took £300, while Hans Solo, the best-loved character of the film and the best-selling of the first series figures, took £270. The solitary Kenner figure of Chewbacca was suffering from 'bloom' to the plastic, a condition that can occur with age and one that has led some toy collectors to question the longevity of these collectables. It took a modest £80.

Incidentally the rarest of the rare in Star Wars figure collecting are those from the very first wave of production that saw Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker holding telescopic lightsabres. These proved difficult to manufacture and broke easily, and were scrapped after only a few hundred figures had been sold.

The Darth Vader version is the most highly prized and has a value of more than £3000.

By Roland Arkell